For The Daily Beast I wrote a piece about Jourdan Dunn getting a British Vogue cover — the first black woman to don the cover solo since Naomi Campbell 12 years ago. While I’m happy for Dunn, WTF fashion industry? You are tripping.
When it was announced that Jourdan Dunn would be the first black model to cover British Vogue in twelve years it made me sad. Not for Dunn who was getting the solo cover she so deserved, but for the fashion industry for continuing its decades of tone deafness towards models and consumers of color.
This is the same industry, that even when there is a black face—as in the case ofAnnie film star Quvenzhané Wallis—the only option for retailer Target’s Annie-themed fashion campaign was to put a white girl on the cover of it.
But, but … there was a token black girl in the background, Target cried in its defense! (But we’ll have more on fashion and tokenism later.)
Both high fashion and the fast, commercial fashion of Target are supposed to be about aspiration. The belief is we should not just want the clothes the model is wearing, but we should want to be her, look like her and live her glamorous life. According to Madison Avenue, I should believe that by slipping on a pair of Dior shades or spraying some Dior cologne I have, by proxy, been endowed with thegolden goddess glory of Charlize Theron.
There’s nothing remiss with this selling of fantasy and dreams until the thinking shifts that if it’s Jourdan Dunn wearing the gold dress in the Dior commercial it won’t sell Dior because no one aspires to be a gorgeous black woman—because black women, by virtue of their blackness, cannot be glamorous and aspirational.Michelle Obama be damned, they are the exotic other, alienating for wealthy white consumers and torpedoing your brand into nothingness.
None of that is true for those brands who have booked black faces. Estee Lauder has not crumbled to dust because the perfect brown face of Joan Smalls represents it. J Crew did not give back the money it incidentally made off of Mrs. Obama. Yet the notion persists.